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Group says Cap Metro video is illegal

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 by Jo Clifton

The community organization Voices of Austin has made its first foray into city politics by questioning the legality of a video produced to showcase the benefits of Project Connect. The group issued a press release noting “it is illegal to use public funds to advertise to persuade voters on a ballot choice.” The board of directors for the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Austin City Council have both voted to adopt Project Connect, a $9.8 billion plan that includes three light rail lines and a new commuter rail line as well as seven new and improved bus routes. Council is expected to vote in August to put the matter on the November ballot. Peck Young, executive director of Voices of Austin, said in a written statement, “Having a government entity, such as Capital Metro, use public funds to pay for any part of producing or advertising partisan commercials or videos, leading up to an election on the issue, would be clearly illegal. We’ve asked for some answers because we believe Austin residents deserve to know how their money is being spent.” Voices of Austin has sent a letter to Capital Metro officials seeking details about funding of the video but has not received a response. The Austin Monitor asked Mariette Hummel, the agency’s chief public information officer, for a comment on the Voices of Austin claim. “Our board approved a system plan expansion, and we’re moving forward on elements of that program. It’s our duty to educate and inform the public about what the program includes.” Young says his group will continue to question Capital Metro’s use of public money, and if necessary, file a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission. For guidance on state law related to use of public money for advertising versus information, attorney Roger Borgelt referred the Monitor to the Texas Ethics Commission’s resources on advertising.

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